The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a series of anti-vaccination ads from Facebook, ruling that they spread misinformation and caused offence.
An American campaign group, Stop Mandatory Vaccination, placed paid-for posts on the social platform which claimed that “any vaccine given at any age [can] kill your child” and that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) – a disease which kills more than 200 babies a year in the UK – was a fabrication of doctors and medical professionals.
The ads appealed to parents, telling readers: ‘If you are on the fence about vaccinating, read this story and then join our Facebook group to talk with like minded parents’, below an image of a baby with its eyes closed with the caption ‘Owen Matthew Stokes (Aug 18, 2017 – Oct 25 2017)’. Further text in the post claimed that the child had died 48 hours after being given a vaccination. The group’s Facebook group currently has over 120,000 members.
The watchdog investigated the ads after a complaint from a young mother. The campaign group had targeted the post at young parents in the UK, explaining that it “intended to cause parents some concern before choosing to vaccinate their children.”
When confronted by the ASA, Stop Mandatory Vaccination provided a copy of a report from the US Health Resources & Services Administration, that reported the number of claims for compensation as a result of alleged injury or death caused by vaccinations. The ASA rejected the report as evidence that vaccines are harmful to children.
Earlier this month Professor Dame Sally Davies, NHS England’s chief medical officer, said: “A number of people, stars, believe these myths - they are wrong. Over these 30 years, we have vaccinated millions of children. It is a safe vaccination – we know that – and we've saved millions of lives across the world. People who spread these myths, when children die they will not be there to pick up the pieces or the blame.”
The ASA said: “Because we had not seen sufficient evidence that showed all vaccinations were proven to have the capability of causing death to children, we concluded that the claim “not only can any vaccine given at any age kill your child” had not been substantiated and was misleading.”
Stop Mandatory Vaccination was told that the ad must not appear again in its current form, and not to claim again that vaccinations could cause death to children.